Adam Price AM
Rail transport in most countries is a matter of economic significance. Yet the current state of the Welsh railway is a source of national embarrassment, dragging our economy down.
In the 2016 National Assembly election, one of the Labour Party’s key flagship transport policies was that they would “deliver a new, not-for-profit, rail franchise from 2018”.
Ironically, the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Ken Skates authored that manifesto.
Today, the Welsh Labour Government has handed over responsibility for our national railways to a French-Spanish, for-profit, consortium of transnational corporations – the former made a profit of €313 million in 2016.
Passengers in Wales will therefore no longer be subsidising rail passengers in Germany at least – as is the case under the current franchise with the German state-owned Arriva. Instead, we will be subsidising rail passengers in France.
The government may, of course, argue that they aren’t able to procure a publicly owned operator under the terms of the Wales Bill.
To cut a long story short, unlike the Scottish Government, Labour in Wales failed to ensure that the devolution settlement permitted the Welsh Government to procure a not-for-profit rail operator.
They then proceeded to vote in favour of this new devolution settlement, knowing full well it would stop them from being able to deliver on this important transport promise.
The Welsh Government have however accepted this position, and have subsequently awarded a £5bn rail franchise to the majority-owned French rail company, Keolis, and Spanish infrastructure corporation Amey to run the Welsh network for 15 years.
As has become the standard practice of late for this Labour Welsh Government, if faced with difficult questions in the knowledge that they have lost the intellectual and moral argument, they deflect and evade challenges through personal and puerile attacks.
I never shy away from scrutiny and I’d like to think that I am a politician who gives as good as he gets.
Today, however, the Transport Secretary refused to answer a crucial question that would at least measure the sincerity of his vision for a Welsh not-for-profit rail operator.
It is possible to introduce a ‘Break Clause’ to this franchise agreement which would allow the Welsh Government to end the contract before the formal contractual end date.
This would permit the Welsh Government to then deliver a not-for-profit rail franchise if there was a change in the law made by a UK Labour Government perhaps.
We were given no such assurances which means the Labour Party in Wales have effectively bound the hands of not just the next administration, but the administration after that, and, indeed, the administration after that.
The Cabinet Secretary argued today that this for-profit franchise will deliver outcomes for passengers. This effectively undermines the Labour Party’s position on nationalisation in its entirety.
Plaid Cymru believes that Wales needs a publicly owned railway to ensure that dividends and profits are reinvested back into the Welsh rail services that have been starved of funding by successive Westminster governments.
Even today, only a short distance away on the yet to be electrified railway line from Cardiff to London, the UK Labour Party held a debate in Westminster on nationalising the railways.
Jeremy Corbyn recently spoke of a people’s railway. However, Labour in Wales, the only national government the Labour Party controls, are celebrating their achievements in slavishly following the Conservative Party’s privatising agenda.
As is often the case with Labour in Wales, it is do as I say, not as I do.
It may well be 2034 before rail in Wales is returned to public hands – I predict that an independent Wales will precede that day.